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Old 11-22-2009, 08:56 PM   #1
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Default Column: Don't wave Terrible Towels at angry dogs

Column: Don't wave Terrible Towels at angry dogs

By Rick Dean
November 22, 2009 - 8:39pm

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Was Sunday the day Chiefs followers had been waiting for so anxiously? The day their woebegone team started the recovery from a 2 1/2-year recession, began the climb back up from rock bottom?

No, we won't go there just yet.

Let's just say for now that Nov. 22, 2009 -- the day Kansas City rallied from deficits of 17-7 at halftime and 24-17 in the fourth quarter to beat the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers 27-24 in overtime -- is a date to circle on the calendar. It will be another couple weeks yet before we know whether this second straight win was the beginning of the end or just another head fake.

This much we know for sure. Sunday was the day the Chiefs bit back. Like the proverbial dog in the Springsteen song that's been beat too much, the Chiefs lashed back at their tormentors in the media, in the stands, even in their own meeting rooms.

It began just before kickoff. Waiting in the tunnel as the visiting Steelers were introduced, the Chiefs were stunned to watch a massive waving of Terrible Towels, a Pittsburgh tradition since the Steel Curtain Days of the 1970s.

Some reporters guessed that half the stadium had brought yellow linen into Arrowhead. My estimate was that only 40 percent of the crowd was turning the Home of the Chiefs into Heinz Field West.

"We didn't like it at all, coming into our house with those towels," Jamaal Charles said afterward. "Brian (Waters) brought us together before the game and said that our people sold their tickets to them. We wanted to go out and set a tone."

And so they did when Charles returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown, effectively stilling any wind generated by the windmill-like twirling of perhaps 25,000 cloths.

"Anytime you're up 7-0 before your offense even steps on the field, that's electrifying," said Chiefs linebacker Andy Studebaker, who would later generate some current of his own. "It changes the way you can play the game."

Well, it did and it didn't. Ben Rothlisberger effectively picked through the Chiefs defense for 17 unanswered points, which is what even the non-twirlers expected.

But then the beaten dog bared its teeth. And suddenly, the Chiefs looked like they had both a will and a way.

They turned a drive-stopping Studebaker interception into a 62-yard TD drive behind some slick Matt Cassel passes. Then when Pittsburgh drove to the 10 on the ensuing possession, Tamba Hali hit Rothlisberger's arm, and his wobbly pass floated to Studebaker six yards deep in the end zone. Studebaker looked more like a Rambler as he chugged 98 yards to the opposite 8 to set up a game-tying field goal, but suddenly the Terrible Towels were Terribly Troubled.

Rothlisberger engineered a go-ahead TD. Expected. But Cassel responded beautifully with a 30-yard pass on third-and-long from deep in his own end, followed by a 47-yard bomb to old vet newcomer Chris Chambers. Cassel's short game-tying TD flip to Charles when he was about to get smacked in the mouth was the kind of play that makes a team believe in a quarterback.

When Pittsburgh won the overtime coin toss, you figured things were over. But yet another unheralded linebacker, Jovan Belcher, made a huge stop on third-and-2 at the KC 35, forcing a Steelers punt. And when Chamber took a short pass 61 yards to the 4 to set up the game-winning field goal, people started talking about miracles.

"People need to understand that anything is possible," said Chambers, a long-time Charger. "Last year people wrote (San Diego) off when we were 4-8, but we kept believing."

San Diego, for the record, won its last four games to take the AFC West with an 8-8 record. The Chargers then stunned Indianapolis in the first-round of the playoffs before losing at Pittsburgh in the conference semifinals.

Now, no one is even hinting that the 3-7 Chiefs will turn this two-game roll into the eight-game surge needed for the 9-7 record likely necessary for playoff consideration. I mean, please!

Still, remember that "under" bet you placed in Vegas before the season? The one that said Kansas City would win fewer than six games in its first season under first-year coach Todd Haley? It isn't the cinch it was just two weeks ago at 1-7.

These dogs have tasted victory. They want another bite.

Rick Dean can be reached at rick.dean@cjonline.com
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